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Philippines - massacre

Local mayor, clan leader held over poll-related killings

Article published on the 2009-11-26 Latest update 2009-11-26 08:05 TU

Mourners bury members of Mangudadato political clan massacred in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, in the southern Philippines(Photo: Reuters)

Mourners bury members of Mangudadato political clan massacred in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, in the southern Philippines
(Photo: Reuters)

The Philippine politician accused of masterminding an election-linked massacre that left 57 people dead has surrendered to authorities, but insists he is innocent.

Amid rising criticism about the perceived slow response to Monday's slaughter in the troubled south of the country, authorities took Andal Ampatuan Jnr into custody while implementing a raft of security measures.

However Ampatuan Jnr denies orchestrating the killings in his home province of Maguindanao, where his family has been a dominant political force for decades.

"There is no truth to that," he told reporters at an airport in General Santos. It was his first public comment since the massacre and was made after he surrendered at his Maguindanao mansion, from where he was flown to meet investigators in Manila.

However authorities did not say that Ampatuan Jnr was under formal arrest. Philippine government officials had been negotiating since Tuesday with Ampatuan's family for him to submit to questioning.

The massacre occurred after about 100 Ampatuan gunmen allegedly abducted a convoy of aides and relatives of a rival politician, Esmael Mangudadatu, plus a group of journalists.

The victims were snatched as they were travelling in a six-vehicle convoy to nominate Mangudadatu as the opposition candidate for provincial governor in next year's national elections.

They were shot a short time later and dumped in shallow graves on a remote farming road close to a town bearing the Ampatuan name. Fifty-seven bodies have been recovered so far.

Ampatuan Jnr is the son of Maguindanao's governor, a Muslim clan chief of the same name who until this week was a close ally of President Gloria Arroyo's ruling coalition.

Highlighting the extensive reach of the Ampatuans throughout the power structure of Maguindanao, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said Thursday more than 300 policemen or government militiamen there had been taken into custody.

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